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Wednesday, 13 March 2013 11:38

Luxurious Turkey

Written by  Phyllis Meras

It was more than a half-century ago that I first visited Turkey, staying in a Youth Hostel overlooking the Bosporus in Istanbul. On my most recent visit, I nostalgically revisited what I had seen before. A far cry from the Youth Hostel of my earlier days, I went to see some of the city’s grandest hotels. 



Among them was the Pera Palace Hotel that first opened in 1892 to receive passengers arriving from Europe on the deluxe Orient Express train. Reopened two years ago after a four-year renovation, it is now a member of the Jumeirah Hotel Group. The six-floor, 115-room hotel, designed in a mix of Art Nouveau, Oriental and NeoClassical styles, has views of the waters of the Golden Horn. Room decor is in keeping with the hotel’s original era. Its historic attractions include the Ataturk Room, which is now a museum room. Notable guests from its historic past include Ernest Hemingway, Greta Garbo, Alfred Hitchcock, Jacqueline Kennedy and Agatha Christie (said to have written “Murder on the Orient Express” there.) Then known as the Pera Palas, it was Istanbul’s first building to have an elevator, and - except for royal palaces - was the first building in the city to have electricity. Known for its fine cuisine, its spacious Agatha Restaurant favors French and Italian cooking, but also has some Turkish fare. Afternoon English tea is served daily in the elegant Kubbeli Saloon or in the cozier, small Patisserie de Pera. There is a spa with an indoor swimming pool, hammam (Turkish bath), and Jacuzzi, as well as a fitness center. The Pera Palace is in the increasingly bohemian Beyoglu section of the city, abounding in restaurants, bars and shops. 

For the traveler in search of more modern Istanbul accommodations, there is the elegant Park Hyatt Istanbul in the Nisantasi residential and shopping area. Though it occupies a 1922 Art Deco building, the interior is very up-to-date. One of the city’s largest hotels, it has 55 standard rooms, five suites, five presidential suites and 25 spa rooms with their own steam rooms. There is also a spa, a fitness center and an outdoor pool with terrace bar The hotel has two restaurants, the Lounge that is open all day and has an a la carte menu, and The Prime, specializing in meats and seafood prepared on a lava-stone grill. 

Across the Bosphorus on the Asian side of the city are two smaller, supremely serene boutique hotels - the Sumahan and the Ajia. The waters of the Bosphorus lap below the terraces of both and private hotel boats ferry guests back and forth to the European side of the city at no charge.

The 24-room Sumahan, once a 19th-century Ottoman distillery producing Suma, the spirit used in the making of the potent aniseed-flavored Turkish drink raki, opened in 2005 and has 24 rooms. Its Waterfront Terrace Restaurant serves both Turkish and international cuisine and there is a seaside terrace, where drinks are served. A Turkish bath, massage and a fitness room are part of its spa. In an inviting library are books on Turkish art and architecture. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  

The boutique hotel Ajia, is in a 150-year-old tall, white, former Ottoman mansion at the Bosphorus’ edge. Gray and brown and cream are the colors chosen by interior designers for its 10 deluxe rooms and six deluxe suites. Its restaurant offers stunning views of the mosques and minarets of European Istanbul across the Bosphorus. Its intimacy and location combine to make it a honeymooner’s paradise. 



From Istanbul, I flew to central Turkey’s Cappadocia, a Vermont-sized area of honey-colored “fairy chimneys” - pinnacles of volcanic ash as much as 130 feet high that lost their lava coating centuries ago. Visitors view them on hikes, horseback, or float above them, as I did, in a hot air balloon. I chose Royal Air Balloon ( for my pre-dawn flight.

Later that day, I visited the Byzantine cave churches and monasteries in the Open Air Museum of Goreme, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Decorating the cave walls are 9th-century frescoes and murals recounting Biblical stories and scenes from the lives of saints. Another day, I crawled through the passages of an underground escape city, constructed by Christians in the 6th and 7th centuries when Persian and Arab armies were attempting to drive the Christians away. More than 37 such cities have already been found, and there are expectations that as many as 100 more are still to be discovered.

My “home” in Cappadocia was in an elegant cave B&B called Sefa in Ortahisar, a cobblestoned farming village known largely for its castle and its caves where citrus fruit is stored to ripen. Each of the two apartments in the American-owned B&B are tastefully furnished with Turkish antiques and include a spacious bedroom, bath and small living room. One apartment has a terrace overlooking a valley of fairy chimneys. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Another small cave hotel is the five-room Serinn in the once-Greek village of Urgup, with views overlooking the village and the mountains. Owned by an Istanbul native, its rooms were designed by a leading Turkish architect. Guests share the living room and library. Breakfast is served on a terrace overlooking the mountains. For tranquility, Serrin would be hard to beat.

A homey Urgup getaway, owned by Suha Ersoz, an environmentally conscious former lawyer, is the laid-back Esbelli Evi.

The Yunak Evlerli Cave Hotel is also in Urgup and its fifth- and sixth-century caves were occupied by local families until 1978. After moving to modern apartments, they used their old homes for storage and for their animals. But when tourism to Cappadocia started to flourish, entrepreneurs began buying the caves and transforming them. Now six former caves houses make up his stylish hotel of 25 rooms and deluxe family suites. www.yu

One of the earliest cave hotel complexes - Les Maisons de Cappadoce is in Uchisar. Overlooking the Rose and the Pigeon Valleys, with craggy Uchisar Castle in the distance, Uchisar was happened upon in 1987 by French architect Jacques Avizou. Entranced by the architectural possibilities, he bought several and his Maisons de Cappadoce began. Today, he has eight apartments - four for six guests; three for four guests, and one for seven. Some have full kitchens and living rooms with fireplaces; some are more modest. All are imaginatively designed and furnished. There are also three studio apartments for two that are ideal for honeymooners. One apartment has its own swimming pool. Guests with kitchens may grill their own kebabs outdoors as the sun sinks over the valleys, or select a restaurant in town for dining. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  

Also in Uchisar is one of the newest cave hotel complexes. Argos in Cappadocia is built in a 2,000-year-old former monastery that later became a caravanserai on the Silk Route from China to Constaninople (now Istanbul). It has 42 guest rooms and suites in five different mansions. Antique Turkish rugs and furnishings brighten its accommodations. Suites have their own private pools. The hotel’s Seki Restaurant-Lounge is renowned for its stunning views of Pigeon Valley, its local and regional dishes, and its large wine collection. In midsummer, a Jazz program attracts neighborhood young and old, and the hotel’s spacious gardens are a sight to behold. 

This hotel had its beginnings in 1996 when Gohsin Ilicali, a communication consultant in Istanbul and a real estate developer in Cappadocia, discovered its stunning site and hired an architect to transform nearly 40 abandoned houses into his hotel. Since its opening in 2010, Argos in Cappadocia has been honored as one of the 45 best hotels in the world by Travel & Leisure and has been called one of the world’s 10 top honeymoon hotel sites by Gayot. www.argosincappa


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